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Sunday, November 24, 1996

Steamboat travel, hunting bit of 1858 life

Kristin Delaplane

Waterfronts pick up vigor

In October 1858, a stage coach upset at Suscol left Mrs. Robert Sterling of Napa with a broken arm. Later that month, a small sum of money was found on the road between Yountville and Napa by a M. Dean of Suisun Valley. He was holding it for the owner.

Cutler announced a new morning schedule for his U.S. Mail stagecoach line operating between Benicia and Suisun City. He would be leaving Benicia for Cordelia, Rockville and Suisun City upon the arrival of boats from San Francisco. This stage would connect with the MacKenzie and Brown’s Stages for Vacaville, Putah Creek, Davis and Sacramento. The stage leaving Suisun City for Benicia at 2 p.m. would give westbound passengers on the MacKenzie and Brown’s Stages time to board. The stage at 2 p.m. would arrive in Benicia in time for the San Francisco, Sacramento, and Stockton boats. The fare from Suisun City to Benicia was $2. A coach at the stage office in Benicia to take passengers to and from the harbor free of charge.

The steamship Peytona captained by S.H. Dubois always docked at Jackson’s Wharf in Suisun City. It carried freight and passengers to San Francisco every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. One of these days it was delayed arriving from San Francisco due to a leak of her hurricane deck.

Back in Suisun City: H.L. Korn & Co. owned a general merchandise store and wholesale liquor business. J.H. Marston also operated a retail and wholesale business out of a brick building. He carried groceries, provisions, crockery and glass, clothing, dry goods, boots and shoes, hardware, paints and oils and paper hangings. William Gordon was a carriage and wagon maker. He made carriages and wagons to order. He also supplied plows and other implements for farming. These he made on the premises.

Proprietors Pressey and Roberts put the American Hotel up for sale. Suisun City would be noted in later years for its landmark hotel, Roberts House. Probably this is the same Roberts.

Mr. Melvine was scheduled to open an oyster saloon which was to be run by Tom Thorne. Fresh shell fish of every kind were to be brought in three times a week.

J.M. Thompson of Thompson and White began construction on a new residence. The interior of the Methodist Church, located near Josiah Wing’s residence, was near completion. The building, being transformed to accommodate church-goers by J.L. Likens of Fairfield, had originally been a school house.

A social excursion to Martinez and Benicia was being planned by Ned Melville. His preparations for the trip included having ice and other fixings as well as hot water for those who wanted it.

The rain came down in buckets that October and the merchants immediately displayed high top boots and waterproof clothing in their windows. Men were scurrying about frantically with tarpaulins and lumber in a effort to protect the hay and grain on the docks. Inside stoves and pipes came out and hot whiskey punches were in great demand at the saloons.

Hunting season was on. In Gordon Valley, a man swore that with only two guns and without even changing his position he killed four deer standing together. A fifth got away.

The wild geese had arrived and were being served up at the hotels and boarding houses. Everyone looked to Waller, a.k.a. the Nimrod of the Valley, to be in the hunt. Legend was he could shoot 75 geese in a single discharge of his long, large shooting iron.

A. Powell, O.H. Rand and Manuel Vera left Vallejo by boat on a duck hunting excursion. Near Martinez at 8 p.m. the boat capsized. The men managed to clamber onboard the capsized boat as it drifted toward Mare Island, some eight miles away. When the tide turned, the boat floated up Napa Creek. At this point Vera swam to shore to summon help. Had the men remained in that situation just a half hour more, it was said they would have perished. As it was they were stranded for three hours during a heavy storm.

Mr. King, proprietor of the Planter’s House Hotel, in Fairfield was making improvements on and enlarging his building. From the hotel’s guest list, it may be assumed men were coming from near and far to take advantage of the duck season. Solano County guests included McCay and lady, A.R. Doan, P. Smith and B. Davis, all from Suisun Valley. Mr. McCoy and S. Hawkins of Vacaville. C.O. Kirnen from Johnston Ranch. Others came from Clear Lake, Wooden Valley, Sacramento, Marysville, San Francisco, Weaverville, Logan Valley, Russian River, Napa City and American River.

There was some building activity in Fairfield. Waterman had begun construction on what was to be an elegant stone mansion. Dr. Evart purchased Waterman’s old residence and enlarged it. Capt. Griffith enlarged his boarding house to accommodate more people. Mr. Williamson was having a two-story brick building built for commercial purposes. Mr. Derby & Co. opened a barbershop and bath house. A bakery opened opposite the Planter’s Hotel. Mr. Davidson erected a large private school house. Almost immediately, 25 students were enrolled. Sunday school was held in the school house in Fairfield every Sunday at 2:30.

The newspaper was actively soliciting for reports from around the county. They were especially keen to hear from Vacaville’s J.W.A. whom had been silent for some time.

News did come from Benicia. It was reported that the Pacific Mail Steamship Co. disbursed from $20,000 to $30,000 per month in wages. At the Barracks preparations were underway to lay the foundation for some buildings. The students of the Female Seminary gave an exhibition of a new sewing machine. Felix Argatti was selling 1,600 acres of land in the area. There was a sociable at the City Hall. Thomas O. Larkin, a native of Massachusetts who founded Benicia, died in San Francisco that year.

Vallejo was a buzz of activity. A half dozen houses had been built and 50 feet had been added to the Catholic Church. The stage coach owned by Galager left the Washington House twice a day for Benicia. Galager was interested in starting a line to Suisun, but a road through American Canyon was needed to accomplish this. An attempt was being made to establish a telegraph company between Vallejo and Napa. Some $1,200 had been raised. Another $800 needed. The Powell and Likins’ Wharf was near completion at the foot of Virginia Street. It was constructed to be as long as the law allowed. There were now five wharves in Vallejo. Funds were contributed and a 50-foot square public school had been built. There were now three schools in the village. The library association was 2 years old and boasted 75 members, 500 books and newspapers from around the world. Talk was of a starting a debating society. A singing school was already established. Singing clubs were considered one of the better opportunities for couples to meet.

A ladies fair was held at the State House and was to raise funds for the new cemetery. Dancing started at 11 and lasted into the early morning hours.

J.B. Frisbee was offering to lease out 2,000 acres of fenced-in wheat land.

A mountain lion had been found hiding under a house in town and was shot by G. Maguire. The animal measured six feet.

Vallejo’s Peter Gunnerson, an aged man, tried to kill his daughter, by cutting her throat ear to ear with a razor. Vigilante talk was in the air, but the man was committed, apparently deemed insane.

Out at Mare Island wages were cut, but there was still much activity. In fact, the steamer Peytona was scheduled to make an excursion to Vallejo and Mare Island to take it all in. A foundry was being built which was to cover acres. Everything from bullets to canons would be cast there. The munitions magazine had just been constructed. Composed of sandstone, it measured 300 by 60 feet with 8-foot thick walls. The roof support was 10 brick arches supported by six pillars. The original pillars had been composed of sandstone, but it was soon apparent they not be enough support and were exchanged for granite. A large group of men set sail from Vallejo to visit Mr. Bales, keeper of the Magazine. After their visit, the men set off for home. Half way there the rain came down, soaking all.

A man was found on the beach two miles from Vallejo. He had drowned in the Napa Creek. His identify was discovered as one Louis Gonseu, a seaman from the U.S. Independence. He was 25 years old and hailed form New Orleans.

From Suisun Valley came news of the marriage of Miss Mary Gomer married Bryon Sheldon at her father’s residence.

Birth notices came out of Vacaville. October 17, daughters were born to A.H. Dollarhide and H.B. Rice. The same day sons were born two Mr. Davises, William Davis and M. Davis. October 18, William Butcher had a son.

It was announced there was a new post office in a city called Rio Vista. The editors noted this “Rio Vista” place was located somewhere in the county the assessors and tax collector had not yet penetrated.